Why do the Republicans want to stop Susan Rice succeeding Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?

The President knows that his current ambassador to the UN is an exceptional talent. What he can't be sure of is how she's so annoyed his political opponents

Related Topics

Washington can move in mysterious ways, but rarely more strangely than now: just why are Republicans so dead set on scuppering Susan Rice?

The lady, as anyone who follows American foreign policy-making knows, is not just anyone. She is the current favourite – or at least, according to every report, the candidate favoured by Barack Obama – to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State when the latter steps down, almost certainly within a matter of weeks.

This Rice is not to be confused with the Republican variety, Condoleezza, although the two have much in common: not only sex and surname, but African-American heritage and close ties with Stanford University. (Condi was an assistant professor there in the 1980s when her namesake took an undergraduate degree in history before winning a Rhodes scholarship to New College, Oxford.)

Susan Rice is, of course, a Democrat, who cut her political teeth as a foreign policy adviser to Michael Dukakis, the party's defeated 1988 presidential candidate, and entered government during the Clinton administration. In 2008, she was among the first and most prominent former Clinton officials to back Obama in his battle with Hillary for the Democratic presidential nomination.

That alone would surely have earned her a place in the boss's good books. But even without that, her service as a National Security Council official, followed by a fellowship at the Brookings Institution here and now almost four years as US ambassador to the United Nations, make Rice amply qualified to be the country's top diplomat. Not, however, if Republicans have their way.

Last week, 97 Republican House members sent a letter to the President saying she was unfit for the job. More pertinently, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two Republican foreign policy grandees in the Senate which would have to confirm the appointment, are publicly threatening to block her nomination, should it be sent forward by the White House. Less obvious is why.

Her ostensible sin is to have declared, five days after the 11 September assault on the American mission in Benghazi in which four people including the US ambassador were killed, that the episode was a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim video that was causing uproar in the Islamic world, rather than an al-Qa'ida operation.

The discrepancy between Susan Rice's words, and the subsequent conclusion of the US intelligence authorities that it had indeed been a premeditated attack, was quickly seized on by the Republicans and their media echo-chambers at Fox News and conservative talk radio as an issue in the presidential campaign. The Obama people, it was charged, had lied to the country in order to cover up scandalously inadequate security at the Benghazi consulate and to avoid undercutting their claims to have all but eliminated the al-Qa'ida threat.

In fact, Rice's part in events was marginal. She had nothing to do with intelligence on Libya, or embassy security procedures. She was simply the designated senior administration foreign policy official that Sunday, summoned to do the rounds of the morning talk shows, armed with pre-arranged "talking points". She was circumspect in her conclusions too, leaning towards the video as the most likely explanation for what happened, but pointing out that the full facts were not yet known.

For Republicans, she has become a designated scapegoat – even though Benghazi signally failed to catch on as an election issue. For all but the most wilfully partisan, what happened was a matter of sorrow, not outrage. Yet still Republicans take aim at Rice, maintaining what Obama at his first post-victory press conference called an "outrageous" campaign to "besmirch her reputation". Why?

There are any number of theories, not least personal vendetta. Rice can be undiplomatically blunt and cutting. John McCain, a notorious grudge-bearer, will not have appreciated Rice calling his foreign policy "reckless" when he was running against her boss in 2008 – still less her mocking description of his campaign visit to Baghdad as "strolling around the market in a flak jacket".

Maybe Republicans want to prove that their opponents too can mess up on national security, just as they did over the September 2001 attacks and Iraq. Clearly there were lapses on security in Benghazi, but Obama has already admitted as much. Maybe Republicans have also dug up earlier incidents to discredit Rice, possibly relating to the Rwandan genocide when she was a top Clinton adviser on Africa. Or perhaps they just want to tar the Obama presidency, remarkable thus far for the absence of scandal, with any kind of misdeed. Or the motive could be more basic still: to demonstrate that even after a thumping election defeat, Republicans matter.

And – whisper it not – race and sex could have something to do with it. As The Washington Post noted on Friday, 80 of the 97 signatories of the House Republican letter are white males, and more than half represent states of the old Confederacy. Jim Clyburn, the third ranking House Democrat , who is black, has flatly accused his colleagues of racism, while a dozen female Democrats have accused Republicans of sexist prejudice.

If so, all one can say, after women's votes gave Obama his win on 6 November, is: will they ever learn? Female secretaries of state are nothing new: if Susan Rice were to succeed Clinton, four of the last five would have been women (and the fifth was a black man, Colin Powell).

Spare a thought for John Kerry, the experienced Senate Foreign Relations chairman once considered a near certainty to succeed Hillary Clinton. Alas, he's white and male. Then again, who knows? This Washington mystery still has a way to run.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Sales Advisor - OTE 18k-23k

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Ford's leading Parts Who...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to learn ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Lead

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading providers of w...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Read Next

No wonder 1,000 women a year are getting abortions because of extreme morning sickness. When I was suffering, my doctor said it would 'cure' me

Jo Crosby

Election catch-up: It looks more and more as if we should get used to Prime Minister Miliband

John Rentoul
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders